By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. — In Orange County, the dental clinic at the county health department offers oral health screenings in county schools that serve free or discounted lunches to the most students. It also promotes the screenings through local pediatricians.
In Wake County, the county’s dental clinic is giving sealants to 500 low-income children to help protect their teeth from decay.
And at the Boys and Girls Clubs in Wake County, kids in the youth sports program protect their teeth with 1,000 donated mouth guards.
Those efforts are among dozens throughout the state supported by Delta Dental of North Carolina and the Delta Dental Foundation.
“Our mission is to improve the oral health of the communities we serve,” says Curt Ladig, president and CEO of Delta Dental of North Carolina.
The statewide nonprofit, an independent, licensed affiliate of Delta Dental Plans Association in Chicago, provides dental insurance to employer groups and individuals. It counts 2,950 licensed dentists in its network, or three of every five dentists in North Carolina, Ladig says.
Operating with 17 employees and offices in Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro, Delta Dental serves 340,000 members at 650 employer groups, and expects to generate net income of $1 million in 2016 on revenue of $110 million.
That’s up from $30 million in revenue and 105,000 members at 120 employer groups in 2011, when Ladig joined the North Carolina affiliate from the Kentucky affiliate, where he had served as chief financial officer and chief operating officer.
The North Carolina affiliate had been struggling and in 2011 became part of a larger operating group that already included affiliates in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Tennessee.
At that time, the affiliates in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio contributed a total of $1 million to the Michigan-based Delta Dental Foundation, which makes grants in those three states and North Carolina.
In North Carolina over the past five years, the Foundation has contributed a total of $240,000 in grants of up to $5,000 each to nonprofits and local health departments to serve 52,000 children throughout the state.
And for the past three years — after it began generating net income, Ladig says — Delta Dental has contributed a total of $125,000 through discretionary grantmaking.
Grants from the foundation support direct services “where a dentist directly serves a child, or it’s educational,” Ladig says.
A grant to the Department of Health in Transylvania County in western North Carolina, for example, will support oral education for preschool children.
In North Carolina, Ladig says, one in three children entering kindergarten has tooth decay, and children with tooth decay are three times more likely than other children to miss school.
“If you’re missing school,” he says, “you’re missing critical instruction time at those early ages.”
Poor dental health also creates big social costs, he says. Many uninsured people with dental problems, for example, visit emergency rooms, which cost 10 times to 12 times more than a visit to the dentist, he says.
Those additional costs to hospitals are built into the cost of private health care, and if people visiting emergency rooms are eligible for Medicaid, taxpayers may be picking up part of the cost, Ladig says.
“So we need to find ways,” he says, “to treat these children and adults in the proper setting, which is a dental office.”